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Despite elimination, reasons remain to smile in Philly

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Penguins clinched the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 yesterday with a 6-0 win over the Flyers. Penguins win the East
A few thoughts while we await the start of Monday’s Game 6 between Detroit and Dallas on Monday night:

A Time To Reflect -- Obviously, the Philadelphia Flyers are disappointed about being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs following Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As time goes by though, the Flyers should be proud of what they were able to accomplish this season. After finishing with the worst record in the League in 2006-07, Philadelphia bounced back to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Clearly, the Flyers weren’t just happy with making the playoffs. They won a phenomenal seven-game series against the No. 3 Washington Capitals in the opening round, and then advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals by eliminating the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens in just five games.

“I have been in the game a long time,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “Working with this group has been one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had in pro hockey.  It really has been. We’ve made tremendous strides this year, and we’ve come an awful long way.

“And if you look back, we played the one, two, three seeds in the East in the playoffs, and I thought we did a remarkable job.”

Indeed they did.

There truly is no shame in losing to a team as talented as the Penguins, who showed what they’re capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders.

“You give Pittsburgh credit,” Stevens said. “To me, they were the No. 1 seed in the East in terms of what I’ve seen, and they're very deserving of moving on.”

Changing Of The Times – At the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ leading scorer was defenseman Dick Tarnstrom.

“We realize we have a tough test in front of us still. Our goal wasn’t to get here – our goal was to get the whole thing done. So far, so good.” - Penguins forward Ryan Malone
Things are just a little bit different these days.

With the team on the verge of bankruptcy, the 2005 Draft Lottery changed everything. That’s when a young man named Sidney Crosby was selected first overall by the Penguins and changed the landscape of professional hockey in Pittsburgh.

How much did he change it?

Well, he basically saved it.

Two years shy of moving into their new state-of-the-art facility, the Penguins are four wins away from their first Stanley Cup championship in 16 years.

“Coming in here, I was just so focused on trying to have a good first year,” Crosby said after Pittsburgh’s 6-0 win Sunday against Philadelphia at Mellon Arena. “The amount of youth we’ve had, we’ve come a long way. We’ve earned it. It’s a great opportunity for us all.”

Including Pens forward Ryan Malone, a Pittsburgh native who grew up watching the Pens and reflected upon how disappointed he was when the New York Islanders ruined their hopes of a three-peat in 1993.

Fifteen years later, though, he has played a huge role in helping the Penguins return to glory.

Malone was also in Pittsburgh for the hard times -- including that 2003-04 season that saw the Pens win all of 23 games.

“Four years ago where we were … the fans have been patient,” Malone said. “We realize we have a tough test in front of us still. Our goal wasn’t to get here – our goal was to get the whole thing done. So far, so good.”
   
The Dallas Stars can force a Game 7 against Detroit with a win over the Red Wings tonight in Dallas.
Halfway There – With two more wins, the Dallas Stars can join a very special group.

After dropping the first three games of the Western Conference Finals, the Stars have clawed their way back into their series with the Detroit Red Wings by winning back-to-back contests. The Stars can force a Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena with a win tonight in Game 6 at the American Airlines Center.

Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders have won a best-of-seven series after falling into three-games-to-none deficit.

“We’re a lot closer,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “We’re not four (away) any more. We’re halfway there. The odds are a little bit better, but it’s still a big challenge.”

While the Stars insist all the pressure is on the Red Wings, the Presidents’ Trophy winners beg to differ.

“There’s pressure on both teams,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “If they lose one game, the series is over. If we win, it’s over, too. I don’t really feel that pressure. The thing is you have to be ready to play the game that’s coming up. You can’t think too far ahead.”

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.


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